Night photography is probably one of the most difficult types of photography to play around with. If you are not a patient person, you’ll struggle. I’ve had to learn for two assignments in my photojournalism class different ways to go about taking photos at night (one assignment on my cellphone and the other on my Canon) and they both have been an experience. Good ones though. Except for one time… but that doesn’t matter.
The last project I dealt with night photography was actually last week. I had to learn how to hold my camera steady while taking over one hundred shots of blurry lights. It was frustrating. Thankfully a few photos showed up (that my teacher loved – hallelujah!), but before I show off just a few of those shots, let me explain why night photography is not easy.
To take a photo at night, a tripod is a necessity. I know it isn’t easy to always have one handy, but trust me, it’ll help. If you don’t have one, you need something to keep your camera steady on (I found myself on the ground taking shots too often to admit). You also have to have an extremely slow shutter speed. Your aperture is going to have to be at a higher f-stop to get a deep depth of field (take a look at this post for some guidance on what that means), which may cause your shutter speed to sit at a nice 30 seconds. I know. 30 seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you don’t have a tripod, that’s a terribly long time to stay still and even hold your breath (it helps like when you’re a sniper in Call of Duty and it gives you the ‘hold breath’ option to keep the sight steady – oh yeah I’m a geek).
A lot goes into take a night photo, but when you have the patience to sit through that 30 seconds or even hour (yeah, an hour, or more, is actually a thing for those awesome star photos where they become streaks in the sky), it is so worth it. Let me show you.
This shot here, I took on my front porch. It was a 6.2 second exposure at f/5.0 (aperture) and ISO 1600. My focal range was 21mm with an 18-55mm lens. It was edited slightly in Photoshop (levels and vibrance).
The long exposure allowed for the light of the cars passing to create this awesome streak across the bottom of the photo (I’ve always wanted to take shots like this) and some of the brighter stars are easy to see within the clouds. I’m pretty sure that’s Venus peeking out of the clouds toward the middle of the photo, too (so cool!)! I took about 20 photos in the same spot, trying to get anything worth editing and the amount of shots that had nothing in focus was terrible (it’s what photographers don’t like to share with you). It didn’t help that it was freezing outside, too, but the purple of the night sky with the silhouette of the tree is so eye-catching. I still can’t believe I got a shot like this.
I took this at 24mm with my 18-55mm lens and the exposure was 1/4 of a second. ISO was at 1600 (does awesome for low light situations) and f/5.0.
If I hadn’t been using a lens that was wide angle, I would have had to bring my f-stop up (f/5.0) and brought my shutter speed down. My wide angle lens saved me from a lot more embarrassment, but hey, this is all a learning experience! Anyway, something my photojournalism teacher really liked about this is the temperature evident between the different light sources.
The sky is a deep blue with a little sunshine in the background. Clouds are still visible, too, which can add a lot of depth to a photograph. Then there’s this bright orange from the lights on East Tennessee State University’s (Johnson City) campus create a cool gradient between the blue and orange (gradient is the gradual color change with a single color or multiple colors).
I probably could have done better getting the sign that whited out to show up and maybe the street sign to show up, too, but those minor details aren’t important to the point of the photo. I also didn’t have to sit down to capture this photo (a blessing in the moment), so I didn’t struggle with the blurry issue.
Now it’s your turn to go out there and try to capture some night photos, if you feel so inclined. Remember, hold the camera steady and hold your breath if you need to if you don’t have a tripod. It makes a world of difference! Don’t be afraid to play with the fun things you can do with low light and a camera. Happy photographing!